16 August 2009

Movie Review: 17 Again


17 Again
2009, 102mins, PG-13
Director: Burr Steers
Writer: Jason Filardi
Cast includes: Zac Efron, Matthew Perry, Leslie Mann, Michelle Trachtenberg, Thomas Lennon, Sterling Knight
Release Date: 17th April 2009

When 2009 climaxes in a few months time it’s unlikely that anyone is going to tout “17 Again” as its best screen endeavour. The film has multiple problems and at its worst runs genre formulas into the ground, there are a handful of instances where those with more than slight exposure to the time travel genre or teen movie construct will find themselves groaning. However that’s not to say it’s a failure because for the vast majority of the picture’s runtime I was immensely entertained. It’s a bright and breezy effort which is particularly suited to the easy going charisma of leading man Zac Efron, for my money “17 Again” is a much superior vehicle to any of the “High School Musical” offerings.

Mike O’Donnell (Matthew Perry) is stuck in a dead end job, reaching the end of a nasty divorce and has absolutely no relationship with his two kids. Looking back he attributes his ugly life to a night in 1989, when at a career spawning basketball match he found out his future wife (Leslie Mann) was pregnant and as a result he ditched his opportunities’ to marry her. Whilst picking his son and daughter (Sterling Knight, Michelle Trachtenberg) up from school he meets a peculiar janitor who (after a serious suspension of disbelief on the audience’s part) allows Mike to relive his youth. Mike’s 40 year old head is stuck in his 17 year old body (Zac Efron), which directly allows him to correct the mistakes he made in his initial high school years. Mike decides to go for the prestige he missed out on, rekindle his failing marriage and help his struggling children along the way.

Despite several glaring moments of genre repetition and a few unwarranted shots of saccharine, “17 Again” is a delightful commodity, made all the more sufferable via a genial and likeable turn from Efron. He’s proved on several platforms that he can sing and dance but with “17 Again” Efron shows solid comedy chops and enough gusto and thespian bravado to hold audience attention for over 90 minutes. Sure he’s not going to land Academy gongs in the near future and for the rabble of teenage girls we’re provided copious amounts of above the belt Efron nudity, but his performance here is remarkably well played and sympathetic. It’s not hard to root for Efron when he shoots out stage presence and charm like some sort of handsome machinegun. The support is solid too, Leslie Mann is fast becoming an audience favourite and her serviceable work here will do little to detract from her growing popularity, whilst as Mike’s nerdish best friend Thomas Lennon scores the lion’s share of the laughs. As Mike’s troubled daughter Trachtenberg isn’t given alot to do and Matthew Perry merely bookends the picture but overall this is a game cast that deliver on their potential.

The screenplay is fabulously witty and features several belly laugh inducing moments, even if at times it can’t help but conjure up scenarios and characters taken from a thousand other Hollywood properties. Those looking for a completely original venture might leave “17 Again” a little disappointed, at times the comedy veers from referentially playful to outright copycatting. “Back to the Future” gets several clear nods and one can’t help but feel a few other body swap pictures might have had some artistic pull over director Steers, and it’s not like the teen stereotypes get forgotten. Yet there is a charm and skill in the writing and acting that allows this charismatic picture to thrive onscreen, it might not be the most unique of its type but “17 Again” is comfortably in the top tier.

The character development feels genuine and rewarding, nicely broken up by several infectiously joyful moments of comedic banter. A sex-Ed class is mined for several chortles whilst Efron’s well natured shtick and Lennon’s goofing go a long way in creating a credible laugh quota. One might debate that “17 Again” suffers from a character too many but most of the key relationships are well crafted by writer Filardi, the 102 minute runtime nicely filled out by the cocktail of giggles and beefier moments of emotional growth and understanding. It’s not like “17 Again” ploughs the human psyche in massively new and interesting ways but it certainly takes time to create characters we care about and present a hero who like.

As a consequence of the film’s emotional bent it occasionally moves into overly sugary waters, but it’s a forgivable sin given the admirably earnest and consistent laugh flow that “17 Again” also offers. Efron’s dabble with time travel is unlikely to be held in the same regard as Michael. J Fox’s or even that of Tom Hanks, but it’s a pleasant and mostly wholesome way to spend 100 minutes anyhow. Plus if your teenage daughter is giving a little too much lip, a dose of Efron should keep her fixated (and quiet) for a little while. Sounds like a recommendation if ever I’ve heard one.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009


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